Pittsburgh’s Contemporary Craft begins its second half-century this year with a new Executive Director in a new facility in a new neighborhood, carrying on the tradition of what began as The Store for Arts and Crafts and People-Made Things in 1971. Southwest Pennsylvania native Rachel Saul Rearick steps in to take her place among the leaders of the organization founded by Elizabeth Rockwell Raphael. Begun with the intention of providing support for artists working in craft materials, Contemporary Craft retains that mission, with fifty years of showcasing work, supporting artists, and encouraging the Pittsburgh community to explore creativity through craft.
Under the direction of out-going Director Janet McCall, Contemporary Craft took on the project of buying and renovating a large industrial space in the city’s Lawrenceville neighborhood. The move from its home close to downtown in the Strip District took place in September of 2020, during the COVID pandemic. McCall oversaw the transition and planned her retirement thereafter. Rachel Saul Rearick began her tenure this month, coming to Contemporary Craft from her position as Arts and Culture Manager for the Allegheny County Airport Authority.
An accomplished print maker, Rearick earned a Masters in Public Administration at Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania and a Bachelors of Fine Art from Edinboro University. She says, “The marriage of practice and administration is perfect for me because I love working both sides of my brain.” She has extensive experience in organizational leadership and has maintained an active presence as a working artist alongside her involvement in various Pittsburgh arts organizations. She serves on the Art Advisory Committee for the Sports and Exhibition Authority, the Advisory Committee for the Office of Public Art, and on the Board of Artists Image Resources. She comes to Contemporary Craft with extensive experience in grant writing, management, and planning. She says, “My first job as an undergrad was a Resident Coordinator at Edinboro University, which made me realize how much I enjoy organizational leadership. I never wanted to be a full-time artist. My work allows me to keep my art as a separate part of my life that is personal, and that makes it very enjoyable.” She is an active member of the Pittsburgh Print Group and the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh. She and her wife, metal artist Katie Rearick, reside in Pittsburgh and collaborate on works.
As Rearick begins her tenure, she plans to build on the strong history of the organization to address today’s cultural environment. “I am honored,” she says, “as a woman, to take the helm of this organization because that has been the history, all the way through. There is a long tradition here of empowering women leaders.” Rearick is very familiar with that tradition, having previously worked at Contemporary Craft about a decade ago as the Assistant Director for Education.
Contemporary Craft’s philosophy of making art accessible to all through the materials of craft is especially seemly in the current reassessment of inclusivity and racial justice within institutions. Rearick says, “I give a nod to Janet [McCall], who, six or seven years ago, addressed these issues with focused attention, through programs and exhibitions on social justice.” She lists as one of her goals to create spaces that are inclusive – not merely physical spaces, but corporeal and inner spaces as well. She sees the work not as education, but as facilitation. “You cannot make assumptions about who is marginalized. We need a conversation,” she explains. “We want to meet the full spectrum of where people are.” From conversation and listening, community develops. Upcoming exhibitions on food justice and incarceration will address this topic.
Three prints in Rearick’s Pandemic series
Rearick is enthused by the potential of the new location in Lawrenceville to meet these goals. Geographically, the facility is very accessible, by car with easy parking, by bicycle in a bike-friendly neighborhood, by bus lines and by foot. Rearick says, “We are finally part of a physical community. And, because this will be our permanent home, our anchor, it puts us in a position to better engage nationally.” The facility has studios intentionally designed to meet the needs of a variety of artists, along with plenty of space for exhibitions, sales, and classes.
Collaborative work with Katie Rearick, Theme and Art, Variation 1, from Continued Conversations series.
As an artist, Rearick is interested in the versatility of the materiality of craft. In her work with Katie Rearick, she says, “We explore the spaces between people, the nuances of our relationship. The material of my craft is paper, a fragile medium. Katie’s material is a strong metal. Yet, we can bend them to be the opposite of expectation, challenging the viewer’s belief.” This ability of materials to express and aid in communication is at the essence of what Contemporary Craft hopes to promote, through viewing an exhibition, handling materials in a class, or purchasing an item and living with it. Unlike what is perceived as “high art,” craft has an innate accessibility and speaks to the deepest urge of humans to touch, form, and change the materials of their world into something to share with others. We welcome Rachael Saul Rearick in her new position at the new Contemporary Craft and look forward to seeing what she will create and share with the Pittsburgh community.
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